THIS PERHAPS BEST DESCRIBES THE 35-YEAR RELATIONSHIP MARIA AND HEINRICH KOCH HAVE HAD WITH THE CENTURIES-OLD CHURCH OF ST. PROCULUS. AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, IT WAS THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC THAT EVENTUALLY CLOSED THIS LONG CHAPTER IN THEIR LIVES, DURING WHICH THEY LED VISITORS ON COUNTLESS TOURS. WE MET UP WITH THE COUPLE AGAIN AND SPOKE ABOUT THE FRESCOES IN THE CHURCH, WHICH REMAIN A SOURCE OF FASCINATION FOR THEM. WE WANTED TO FIND OUT WHAT MAKES ST. PROCULUS SO SPECIAL AND WHY SOME VISITORS ONCE CAME BEARING ARMS.
Your involvement with St. Proculus has lasted 35 years. What do you still find fascinating about it?
M: It’s how the church affects me. I’ve looked after it for 35 years, and when I conduct guided tours there I still find the frescoes as fascinating as I did on the very first day. It's amazing how much is concentrated in such a small space, with so much detail and hidden beauty.
H: What fascinates me is the realisation that, despite all the scientific knowledge that man has developed, we still know nothing. The Carolingian frescoes can be interpreted in so many ways, and the important questions of life are still open. Since so little is really known and we’re mostly left to speculate. Our explanations of various aspects of the church could only be based on the different theories that have been put forward. What these painters tried to pass on to us 1,300 years ago, we’ll never know – simply because we weren’t there. The frescoes depict subjects important to the Carolingians … things that had meaning for them. By contrast, frescoes by Gothic painters are more overtly dogmatic.
Is there a particular painting or fresco in the church that stands out for you?
M: The one depiction that still fascinates me to this day is image of the angels adoring the chancel arch with open hands. I especially like the gesture of the hands, as if to ward off evil. And if you look closer, they are the only figures in the church represented with ears! Perhaps it has to do with their proximity to the altar, so they can hear the Word of God.
H: That fact that there are certain depictions that are only found in St. Proculus is also exciting, such as the disproportionately large hands or the Gothic portrayal of the Magi. They were initially portrayed as children, then as adults and finally as old men. What does all this symbolise? Perhaps that Man is on a lifelong quest. What a unique depiction!
After more than 35 years working there, have you seen any change in the type of visitors who come to the church?
H: The type of people who come to visit St. Proculus Church have always been varied, and include regular tourists, school groups and academics. It's a bit of everything. The biggest change in recent years is that cultural tourism has increased a lot. Most of those who came to South Tyrol 35 years ago did so to go hiking and to enjoy the wine. That was about all. That’s changed a lot in recent years.